Overthinking Your Spotify Wrapped? The Link Between Music and Mental Health Is Complicated

red headed woman lying on the floor listening to music on over ear headphones

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Key Takeaways

  • Every December Spotify Wrapped shows users who they listened to the most that year.
  • Since its inception, it has become a major moment of self-reflection for music fans, who often place part of their identity in the results.
  • Users also tend to view these roundups as windows into the state of their mental health, but the correlation is complicated to unpack.
  • While there's a clear link between music and mental health, it's important not overanalyze your habits.

One of the most eagerly awaited days of the year for many music fans is the first day of December when Spotify Wrapped comes out. Though it started as an email, it has evolved into an interactive experience modeled on graphically attractive social media layouts that users can in turn share on their personal accounts.

And it's not just Spotify. Sites like have allowed music fans to track their listening habits for years—it was established in 2002—and there are numerous third-party apps allowing people to find out which artists, songs, or genres they’ve been listening to most frequently throughout the year. 

Listeners revel in these stats because it affords them a moment of self-reflection via the lens of their own music taste. Did I listen to more upbeat or down-tempo artists? More sad girl indie or hyper-pop remixes? And what does this assortment of artists and genres say about my mental health?

Our Music, Our Mental Health

It can be easy to romanticize our mental health and the music we listen to ties into that. Think of the way moody or angsty music is often seen as cool or edgy. Meanwhile, some genres and subcultures like goth and emo, are associated more with angst and moodiness—and frequently, poor mental health.

The correlation is inaccurate for many listeners—plenty of happy people enjoy genres like heavy metal—but others who are struggling with their mental health find comfort in hearing an artist sing about dealing with some of the same things they are.

Still, for plenty of people who listen to ‘sad’ music, it can become an almost romanticized part of their identity. This prompts a few questions: Is listening to sad music a coping mechanism that helps, or is it just reinforcing that low mood? Can it cause a lower mood? And would it be better to listen to more upbeat, cheerful music?

There are many possible answers, and the research pulls in both directions.

Studies have shown a relationship between certain genres of music and vulnerability to suicide, drug use, and antisocial behavior. However, music doesn’t appear to be the cause. Rather, music preference can be indicative of emotional vulnerability.

Adam Ficek, Psychotherapist

Studies have shown that excessive listening to particular music types can incite dysfunctional rumination which is closely linked to depression.

— Adam Ficek, Psychotherapist

That being said, we should be cognizant of spending too much time listening to sad music because, “it can be problematic and detrimental to mental health, especially in adolescents,” as Adam Ficek, psychotherapist and spokesperson for the UK Council for Psychotherapy, explains. 

“Studies have shown that excessive listening to particular music types can incite dysfunctional rumination which is closely linked to depression.”

Ficek continues, “Continued reinforcement of these habits can induce a feedback loop known as ‘evaluative conditioning’ whereby the ruminative and depressive feelings are continually paired with the same music listening experience. This neurological stimulus of listening to a certain piece of music deepens the emotional experience in our implicit memory through the continued paired associations."

So if the music we listen to emulates our mood, can this be a helpful tool for healing? The answer isn't so clear-cut. The well-meaning advice to listen to happy music as a mood booster might not always be right for everyone. Sad and moody music can be effortlessly relatable and comforting, while giving the listener permission to feel how they feel.

Music Taste and Identity

Our music tastes are incorporated into our identity—it's a big part of what makes an annual listening roundup so compelling. Many common subcultures, from punk to hip-hop to goth to emo, have music right at their core. Even being part of the fandom of one specific band or artist can form a huge part of somebody’s identity.

This is perhaps more obvious today, with the rise of social media and ‘stan’ culture, but we see examples of this throughout the 20th century. There was Beatlemania of the 1960s, the massive popularity of Nirvana and the alternative rock scene of the early 1990s (Kurt Cobain's mental health struggles would leave a mark on a generation), and of course the boy bands and teen pop stars of the early 2000s.

When Take That, probably the biggest British boy band ever until One Direction, announced their split in 1996, mental health charity Samaritans went so far as to set up a helpline for distraught fans. 

So can fandom go too far, even affecting our mental health? For dedicated fans, there might be a pressure of sorts to ensure that their favorite artist is their top artist for the year. And with the feature that shows fans whether they’re in the top 0.01% or top 2% of their favorite artist’s listeners, for example, there’s even an element of competition. 

There’s a danger that we’re changing why we listen to music. There’s something altogether more performative about it because we’re showing other people what a huge fan we are of our favorite artist. Even if, for some people, that means listening to them thousands of times.

Music As a Tool For Healing

“Times can be quite hard with the current political climate, war, impact of global warming, and the ongoing physical and mental health challenges from COVID”, says Nicholas Barnes, certified hypnotherapist and mindfulness teacher. He describes them as “taking a toll on our feelings of safety in the world and quality of life.”

It's been a tough few years, so maybe people don’t want to listen to upbeat or happy music all the time. But music can really help our mental health. 

“For many people, music can play a role in making a positive quality of life shift,” explains Barnes. “The connection with music is very personal. The relationship with music can be a very beautiful, vulnerable, and often complicated dance that shifts from moment to moment based on our mood, preferences, social situation, and previous experiences.

“There are times when music can have a clear and immediate impact on our well-being, which can be helpful towards being able to fall asleep with a soothing playlist, and it also helps bring self-expression of emotions by singing and connecting to others by attending a live musical performance.”

Indeed, many people use Spotify for relaxation, for meditation, or just for healing. White and brown noise playlists and all kinds of ambient artists are very popular on Spotify. Meanwhile, one study from 2016 suggested that people with mental health conditions use music for the reduction of negative emotions.

Resist Overanalyzing Your Wrapped Playlist

With music having such an impact on our lives, it’s no surprise we’re fascinated by our own listening habits, and want to read more into them. And certainly, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. If you’re a huge Beyoncé fan, you’re going to be happy to read that you’re in the top 2% of her listeners, for example. 

But it’s important not to overanalyze the results. Listening to music should be enjoyable, whether you’re listening to your favorite album, revisiting a song from your childhood, or checking out an up-and-coming band. 

Nicholas Barnes, hypnotherapist and mindfulness teacher

The relationship with music can be a very beautiful, vulnerable, and often complicated dance that shifts from moment to moment based on our mood, preferences, social situation, and previous experiences.

— Nicholas Barnes, hypnotherapist and mindfulness teacher

It can be difficult not to, however. This year, Spotify even assigned everyone a ‘Listening Personality’ type in the style of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, from The Adventurer to The Fanclubber. 

Ficek contrasts a healthy approach with an unhealthy approach. “A healthy approach to advertising your favorite artists on Spotify would be underpinned with a secure sense of identity, confidence and using the opportunity as an extension of representing who you are as a music fan,” he says.

“An unhealthy approach would involve curating an inauthentic, ‘false self’ identity in an attempt to generate greater personal appeal and attract external validation from other music fans. This need for external validation can result in pressure and stress to appeal to other music fans in order to feel good about ourselves.”

You might go through a phase of listening to sad music at one point in the year if you’re going through something difficult, or listening to more energetic music if you’re training for a race, for example. We can go through phases of enjoying different music.

Perhaps you listen to energetic music when you exercise, relaxing music when you’re working or studying, and white noise or natural sounds when you’re going to sleep. It’s near impossible to get all of that into your Spotify Wrapped, so all in all it’s probably best not to overthink things. 

What This Means For You

Music has all sorts of benefits, both mental and physical—regardless of your favorite genre or style. Spotify Wrapped is fun, too, but we shouldn't read too much into it.

Listening to sad music when we feel low can help us in some ways, making us feel as if we're less alone, but listening to happier music sometimes may also help. If you're worried that listening to sad music isn't helping your mood, change up the vibe and try not to place too much of your identity in your listening habits.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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